Keith Harrell, renowned motivational speaker and former top sales and training instructor at IBM, passed away on Monday, October 18, 2010 after a battle with spinal cancer. He was 52.

Keith was a Seattle native who played high school and college basketball. He led his high school to an undefeated season in 1973-74 and helped them with the state title, gaining all-state and all-city accolades. At Seattle University, he captained the basketball team and played with future NBA draft picks, including Clint Richardson, Jawann Oldham and Carl Ervin. Keith, nicknamed “Silk,” averaged 16 points per game in a season.

Despite being a basketball star in his youth, Keith’s life took him in new directions as he grew, and he earned his Bachelors degree in Community Service. He spent 14 years in sales at IBM, eventually distinguishing himself as one of their best trainers. From there, he went into the world of motivational speaking, where he excelled right until the end. He worked with clients such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Merrill-Lynch and Boeing, speaking at more than 120 events annually and earning the nickname “Dr. Attitude.”

The nickname fit him; if you ask those who knew him, you’d hear that Keith’s attitude was what really made him special, in motivational speaking and in life. The Wall Street Journal noted, “What sets Keith apart is his driving ambition and an attitude that refuses to flag.” Keith’s website notes that “attitude is everything,” and his enthusiasm and positive spirit were contagious. His catch-phrase was one that those who spent time with him heard often: “Have a super-fantastic day!”

Fellow speaker Steve Siebold made this comment about Keith: “Keith Harrell wasn’t just a motivational speaker, he was THE motivational speaker in corporate America. We spoke on stages all over the country together, and he was the best of the best. The world has lost one of the great ones.”

There really isn’t enough room to talk about how great a speaker, motivator and person Keith was, so this will have to suffice: He will be missed. He was an energetic personality who lit up rooms with his smile and his attitude, and the motivational speaking world is the poorer to have lost him.

If you never knew Keith personally, I hope this paints a small picture of the great guy he was, and why his lessons still matter, even though he’s passed on. Here’s what Keith really wanted people to know, in his own words:

“I believe attitude is the cornerstone, the foundation of everything you do with your life and everything I do. It all starts with what you believe. Your attitude determines your altitude. I help people and business and in life choose the right attitude for the situation to accomplish their goals and their dreams.”

Rest in peace, Keith Harrell. We’ll all keep trying to have a super-fantastic day!

Sources:, Garfield Messenger, Seattle Examiner